On Scene: 'Uke' and me


Jake Shimabukuro ordered a Midori sour at Mambo Italiano after his performance at Strings in the Mountains on Friday night. It was not the drink I expected from the "baddest ukulele player on the planet" - according to a San Francisco Chronicle review. And he was one of the nicest people I've met.

His humor and charm were apparent in our interview and on stage. His performance was half storytelling/comedy act and half unbelievable talent. He said he talks a lot during his performances because his music doesn't have lyrics, but it doesn't need any.

Shimabukuro played chamber music, flamenco, jazz and the "Star Spangled Banner" on his "uke," not to mention music that was composed for the guitar and piano, not the ukulele.

The packed audience sat in awe while Shimabukuro played, and it erupted into laughter after his Bruce Lee jokes and other humorous stories.

The man broke the barriers of his instrument's definition, but to him, he was just taking a "broader approach."

"What really struck me about music is there are so many names for different styles. Whatever it is - if you think about it - it's just music, vibrations and creating sounds that work together in harmony," Shimabukuro said. "We don't need to label these things. I want to study a little bit of everything and take what I like from this and that."

Shimabukuro is leaving soon to go on a 21-city, five-week tour of Japan, and he is taking only a carry-on suitcase and his uke. I have traveled extensively all my life (we're talking 33 countries), and I am still a pack rat.

He said he packs a bunch of T-shirts and jeans and hand washes his clothes. He sleeps on the plane and plays his uke in his hotel rooms. No wonder he is so good.

Even at Mambo - instead of just relaxing after his performance at Strings - Shimabukuro jammed with the band Jebus and gave me a sample of his marvelous Shiatsu massage technique.


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